Hempstead Town officials have cleared the way for a referendum that would allow residents to vote to dissolve a sanitation district that serves more than 50,000 people.

The dissolution, if successful, would be the largest of its kind in New York State since a 2009 law made it easier for citizens to petition to dissolve local governments. The law has mostly been used to target much smaller entities, with fewer than 1,000 residents

Officials in the town clerk's office Thursday verified petitions that asked for the district's dissolution. The 5,386 petitioners say Sanitary District 2's taxes, which average more than $500 per year, per home, are twice as high as they would be if the service was provided by the town.

The district, which is governed by a board of commissioners, now has a month to set the referendum. The vote can be held two to three months after that, according to state law.

The referendum will be a chance for taxpayers to vote in favor of lower taxes, said Laura Mallay, executive director of Residents for Efficient Special Districts, which organized the petition drive. "This is democracy at its finest," she said.

But district officials may try to block the referendum with a lawsuit, said Ken Gray, an attorney for the district, which serves about 55,000 people in Baldwin, Roosevelt, South Hempstead and parts of other communities.

"The district is aware that this is the first petition of its kind in the downstate area, and we want to make sure that everybody complies with the statutory requirements of the law," Gray said.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

John A. Cools, chairman of the district's board of commissioners, declined to comment, as did Doug Wiedmann, the district's secretary. Cools makes $7,500 per year.

Mike Deery, a spokesman for Hempstead, said the petitions were declared valid Thursday at 3:30 p.m.

He has said the town would be happy to take over sanitation service if it is the "will of the community."